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Month: July 2016

If you want to create a better cup of coffee, do your homework

If you want to create a better cup of coffee, do your homework

cup of coffeeBy the beginning of the twentieth century, coffee drinking was no longer a luxury. Melitta Bentz and her husband, Hugo, were among the many people who had recently started to drink it daily, with their breakfast or with cakes and while chatting in the afternoon.

However, Melitta’s enjoyment was marred by the trials and tribulations of brewing a cup. The percolators were prone to over-brew the coffee, espresso-type machines at the time tended to leave grounds in the drink, and linen  filter bags were tiresome to clean.

ink_blotShe was sure that there must be a better way. She started experimenting and, in the end, her homework paid off – or perhaps that should be her son’s homework paid off!

Her solution involved using a nail to poke holes in the bottom of a brass cup and lining it, not with a linen bag but with a sheet of blotting paper from her eldest son’s school notebook.

The results were outstanding. Not only did the coffee taste significantly more aromatic, there were no more grounds in the bottom of the cup, and preparation was fast and simple. There was no bag to wash as you simply threw the used ‘blotting’ paper away.

early prototypeMelitta decided to set up a business and, on 20 June 1908, The Kaiserliche Patentamt (Imperial Patent Office) granted her a patent . On 15 December 1908, she registered her own company “M. Bentz”, for the sale of coffee filters with the trade office in Dresden. Her starting capital was 72 Reichsmark cents. The company headquarters was a room in her apartment.

After contracting a tinsmith to manufacture the devices, they sold 1,200 coffee filters at the 1909 Leipzig fair.

Her husband Hugo and their sons Horst and Willi were the first employees of the emerging company.

melitta1In the 1930s, Melitta revised the original filter, tapering it into the shape of a cone and adding ribs. This created a larger filtration area, allowing for improved extraction of the ground coffee.

In 1936, the widely recognised cone-shaped filter paper that fits inside the tapered filter top was introduced and the brand continued to grow.

And the moral is innovation comes from seeing things differently. What could you use in a different way to create something completely new?

Stepping sinuously and gracefully from shipyard to playground and on to Hollywood

Stepping sinuously and gracefully from shipyard to playground and on to Hollywood


During World War Two, Richard James worked as a naval mechanical engineer at the William Cramp & Sons shipyards in Philadelphia. In 1943, he was working on a design for a special meter to monitor the horsepower output on naval battleships. One of the challenges he faced was to ensure that this sensitive instrument was supported and could be stabilised even in the roughest seas.
James was looking at how a variety of springs could be used to help when he accidentally knocked one of them off a shelf. He watched as the spring “stepped” in a series of arcs to a stack of books, to a tabletop, and then to the floor, where it re-coiled itself and stood upright. James felt a sense of slight disbelief but also had the inkling of an idea.
James’ wife, Betty, later recalled, “He came home and said, ‘I think if I got the right property of steel and the right tension, I could make it walk.'”
James started experimenting with different types of steel wire, and after about a year finally found a spring that he felt could “walk”.
Betty, who was dubious at first, changed her mind after this version was given to some neighbourhood children who loved their new toy. She decided it needed a name and after a few hours with her trusty dictionary came upon “Slinky”, meaning sinuous and graceful, which she felt described the sound and movement of the metal spring as it expanded and compressed.
The couple decided to take out a US$500 loan and formed James Industries (originally James Spring & Wire Company). They had 400 Slinky units made by a local machine shop, hand wrapping each in yellow paper, and pricing them at $1 apiece. Each was 2 ½ ” tall, and included 98 coils of high-grade blue-black Swedish steel.
Initially, toy stores were sceptical but, in November 1945, James was given permission to set up an inclined plane in the toy section of Gimbels department store in Philadelphia to demonstrate the toy.
Those first 400 units were sold within ninety minutes.
In 1946, Slinky was introduced at the American Toy Fair. Between then and 2005 over 300 million Slinkys have been sold, and the original Slinky is still a bestseller.

In 1952, the Slinky Dog debuted. Other Slinky toys introduced in the 1950s included the Slinky train Loco, the Slinky worm Suzie, and the Slinky Crazy Eyes, a pair of glasses that uses Slinkys over the eyeholes attached to plastic eyeballs. Of these, it is perhaps the Slinky Dog that is the most famous, having appeared in all The Toy Story movies.

And the moral is that the difference between seeing something and seeing what it could be is the difference between an experience and a brand opportunity. What have you seen recently that could be the basis for a brand?

Go on, annoy your customers, it’s good for business, it’s good for the world

Go on, annoy your customers, it’s good for business, it’s good for the world

Tony’s Chocolonely goes out of its way to annoy some of its customers.

Most chocolate bars are divisible into equal parts. People like the uniformity. It is easy to break off equal parts for yourself or to ensure everyone get the same sized piece when you’re sharing a bar with friends. Some people like the fact that they know how much an individual piece of chocolate will weigh.

Yet in 2012 Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch based chocolate company, deliberately introduced their unequally divided bar.

Not surprisingly they got comments and complaints but the unequally divided bar continues. Tony’s isn’t being different just for the sake of being different, they are doing it for a reason. A reason linked to the very heart of their brand.

Tony’s is a brand with a mission. 

As their website explains they are “crazy about chocolate, serious about people – A 100% slave-free chocolate industry – that’s our goal. It’s the reason we created Tony’s Chocolonely. And it’s our mission to make other people as passionate about 100% slave-free chocolate as we are.”

Set up by Maurice Dekker, a TV producer and originally fronted by journalist Teun van de Keuken, it was the brand that arose out of their campaigning programmes. Programmes that highlighted the continuing child exploitation and even slavery in the chocolate industry in West Africa.


The first bars were part of a programme storyline with van de Keuken following the whole supply chain from bean to bar to demonstrate that a slave free chocolate bar could be made. The first batch sold out within an hour of coming onto the market so Dekker decided to start a company.

The brand name combines the Anglicised version of “Tuen” – Tony and his “lonely” search for slave free chocolate.

Another difference is their use of colour. Dekker recalls “How was I to know that red is the code for pure chocolate and blue is for milk? I was ignorant of the whole industry and red to me is a colour to raise awareness, a signal. And that’s what the first Tony’s Chocolonely’s milk chocolate bar was about. Raising the signal, the red flag” 

The unequally divided bar comes from the same sort of thinking. It is unequally divided as it represents the unequally divided chocolate industry. In fact if you look closely at the design you can see the outlines of the chocolate producing nations of West Africa – Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo and Benin, Nigeria and Cameroon.

Tony’s aim was to make its customers stop and think about the chocolate they were eating and to remember the unequal distribution on the chocolate making supply chain.

They are still getting complaints but rather than change they are just happy that they have a valid excuse to tell their story again.

And the moral is that you can build your brand right into your products. How can your product or service tell your story for you?